Last night my son was doing a homework assignment that required a list of ten virtues. He had nine--all the usual ones including self-control, perseverance, loyalty, honesty--but was stuck for the last. He asked me, and within a tenth-of-a-second I replied, "thrift."
He asked for a definition, and off the top of my head, I said conservation and management of resources so as to avoid waste. I don't know if that's even close, but that's the way I live. I scrape the last smidgen of peanut butter out of the jar, reuse tin foil three times at least, and plan the meals I serve around what's on sale. Not much different from most Americans, probably. Well, all right, my friends do occasionally call me "cheap."
But today, with our morning newspaper came an advertising supplement for Target. I already shop there, though toiletries come from Dollar Tree, and I only buy their clothes for my kids when they come on sale (I wear their "hand-me-ups"). Target, however, is trying to position itself as the substitute for all the services and pleasures that before the downturn, cost more somewhere else. On the front of the supplement is a smiling red-headed boy serving breakfast in bed to, assumedly, his parents-- "the new room service," with a faux newspaper on the tray, headlined "Stocks down."
We're then taken through a series of vignettes that hawk accoutrements for "the new commute" (bicycle, $80, helmet $15, messenger bag $16); "the new renovation" (toss pillows, $18 apiece, fabric refresher spray $4.50, photo frames, $6); "the new family game day" ("Connect 4" game, $15, pack of batteries, $9.79); "the new personal trainer" (work out tank top $19, hand weights $6 each); "the new spa trip" (mascara $6.39, terry robe $20, Olay moisturizer $22); the new restaurant (salmon fillets $8.99/24 oz, basic dinner plates $5/ea, 200 Bounty napkins $2.50); "the new coffee spot" (Mr. Coffee $20, sandwich cookies $1.89, dishwasher liquid $4); "the new barber shop" (hair clippers $15, bath towels $5); and "the new water adventure" (toddler swimsuit $10, sunscreen $5.24, cheese snacks $1.39).
Now, all these "new" experiences aren't new to me and probably most others, but I must say, there are a few really good deals listed in that list (Target? Need a spokesperson?), and a few things old cheapo me wouldn't ever pay for. My "new personal trainer" (who I never had) knows I work out in a cast-off t-shirt (why sweat in a $19 tank top?) and the moisturizer for my "new spa trip" is hotel mini-sized giveaways from my husband's business travels.
And that's my point--Americans know the value and the virtue of thrift already. That's how Target stays profitable. Still, it is rather clever for them to hook new customers by suggesting they're the reasonable replacement for upscale, expensive habits. This is the capitalist system at work, the real stimulus our economy needs, rather than a thousand pages of "pork and earmarks" that must be paid for through extraction from already-smarting taxpayers under penalty of imprisonment, that will probably curse future generations as the national debt.